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The Tumultuous Months of 2011

I know I haven’t posted anything since November, but thankfully, I’m still alive and in some ways I’m also thankful that I’m still in London. My beloved Cairo has changed so much since I left (is that a complete coincidence? :)) and I have no idea if I’ll return, but I wrote the following piece on 31 December 2011 and wanted to share it with you all here. It’s a little more personal than you might be used to, but it’s from me and about my journey in 2011. Enjoy. ~ LY.

P.S. I’ve split the post into several pages for ease of reading, so to read more, click the next page number.

Once upon a time, in a tale that held no fairies at all and in a world that is as real as the air you suck into your lungs, there was a young lady. For the sake of this story, we’ll call her LaYinka Sanni, because it’s quite a pretty name.

One night – let’s say on the 31st December 2011 – LaYinka sat to think back on the year and all that was dished out to her. For each month of 2011, she was able to mention an event that either helped to mould her, challenge her, shake her, enrage her, soothe her, console her, restrict her or free her. Each month had its own tale to tell, and in this story LaYinka recants them to you. Sit comfortably because LaYinka likes to talk, and it’ll be a long one!

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Ramadan: Declared by a Crescent

I’ve been wanting to write about Ramadan before the thin crescent of the moon declared the beginning of the month of self-restraint, but I’m having a little difficulty with my pen at the moment (hence very little writing’s been happening).

Ramadan 1432 AH (2011) commenced on the 1st of August – it started without much fanfare for me, as the previous day was one of the most exhausting working days I’ve experienced in Egypt thus far, and one which I shall not dwell on.

There had been anticipation of great difficulty surrounding this year’s fast because it’s within the throngs of an Egyptian summer, so the first day was very chilled and I stayed at home with my sister (who was here for three weeks – I’ll blog about our not-so-exciting escapades in due course!) and accepted an invitation to break our fast in true Egyptian style.

Tonight is the 7th night of Ramadan and the second that I’ve actually spent at home. Every Ramadan night has been peppered with an Egyptian spice, whether it be breaking fast with very dear friends, meeting other expats and sharing a bit of ‘now we can eat’ joy or having the pre-dawn meal overlooking the Great Pyramids themselves.

I’m hoping Ramadan slows down a little. I don’t want it to to be devoured, but to milked on slowly so that I can pause often in thought and reflection, and travel within myself to do a little bit more self-discovery.

My highlight thus far has been spending an hour at the top of a minaret that overlooks Cairo with the Quran as my companion. An experience that I really cannot allow words to try to describe, because they’ll only come lightyears away from the emotions that enveloped me at that point in time.

  The view was breathtaking… 

A view from the bottom of the minaret

View of the old fountain in Ibn Tulun mosque from halfway up the minaret

Sneak peek at the city below...

I wish all my fasting readers a very blessing-filled Ramadan, and I promise to try to make some writing pit-stops soon.

Love, as always,
– The Londoner

p.s. I know I’ve failed to describe the joys of the month, or the sparkling lights that illuminate every street, or the Ramadan lantern (fanous) that is in abundance here, or the great happiness seen on the faces of the destitute as unknown donors drop off food along streets. I promise, I will. God-willing, I will. ~ T.L.

When Men are Men

“Salah Salem,” I said through the passenger window. The slight nod of his head told me he was willing to take us there, so we jumped into the back seats.

We nattered in English throughout the journey, talking about work, my emotional breakdown while speaking to a hearing-impaired student’s parents about his struggles in class and a variety of other topics.

“Feen fi Salah Salem?” He finally asked, as he neared a junction that would determine the route.

“Er… erm… 6 October Panaroma,” I never realised that I actually have a little difficulty saying panaroma, especially since I was trying to say it Egyptian-style – meaning, replacing the p for a b!

We were meeting friends at the International Bowling Centre, but didn’t realise it was the same day that Al-Ahly (one of Egypt’s two football teams) were playing at the stadium nearby. It was the human sea of red shirts and waving flags that told us.

The taxi driver turned into the junction of the bowling centre and the sheer number of Ahly fans roaming was quite overwhelming. It triggered memories of Millwall fans when I used to be out in South-East London, minus the skinheads and looks of disgust. Although knowing that the Ahly fans littered along the street were nothing like the hooligans back in the UK, it didn’t make it any more comforting – boys will be boys, and they’re usually worse when in large groups.

We told the taxi driver he could let us out anywhere along the street. He didn’t. He outright refused and carried on, did a U-turn and went back towards the main road. My friend and I looked at one another, exchanging words of ‘What’s he doing’ telepathically. He then said in English,

“I drop you here,” then switched to Arabic to tell us that there was a clear path away from all the men, and he called on three security guys who were loitering in the area.

“These ladies want to get to the Panorama,” he told them in Arabic.

“The Panorama is closed,” they said, peering at us through the window.

“It’s closed?” I was sure it wasn’t.

“Yes, it closes at 5pm,” one of the security guys confirmed.

I took my phone out of my bag. No missed calls from our friends to say it was closed.

“Really? We want to go bowling.”

“Oh! Bowling. Yeeeez! That is open,” a tea-stained smile spread across his face. We were all smiling at this point, and the taxi driver told the security guys to make sure we got there safely, since he was dropping us a little distance away from the entrance.

Of course, being the sentimental lady that I am, I was moved by his gesture and genuine concern for our safety, and kept on ‘Ahhhhh’-ing because it was above his duty as a taxi driver. Aside from wishing goodness for him and thanking him, we gave him a generous tip to thank him for his kindness, and it was one of those, I love Egypt moments, where men are men and care for lady-folk, expecting nothing in return.

Men, take note. 🙂

– The Londoner

What’s his ain’t mine

The back of his washed-out jeans left a clean circle from where he’d been sitting. I didn’t know the make of the car, but it had a thin layer of dusty residue all over its body. He was throwing melon seeds into his mouth as he idly sat on the bonnet, his companion laughing along to whatever was being said.

It was an odd sight as I’d never seen anyone sitting on their car before, and then it became obvious that it wasn’t his car at all as he jumped down and hailed a microbus with his friend.

Clearly, I was left in a state of wonderment: eyebrows shot up, jaw dropped slightly and then the delayed head scratch of eh?! The young guy had been sitting on someone else’s car, with no care or concern of any sort of reprimand. Switch the situation to London, and what you would see – or rather, hear – is someone screaming, “Get the f*** off my bloody car, you f***ing p****!” No, I kid you not.

There is an unspoken rule that what’s mine ain’t yours and therefore, what’s mine can only be touched, removed or likewise with my permission. To do so without permission you are looking for the back of your head to be slapped, or any other sort of consequence.

Although I’ve been in Egypt for 9 months, I still have this ingrained in my psyche, and do not feel comfortable leaning against someone’s car as I wait for a friend, or put my feet onto a car’s bumper in order to tie my Converse laces. What’s his (or hers) is his (or hers) and I have no right to abuse that. I’m thinking that if Egyptians adopted this line of thinking, there would be less abuse of property and increased respect for one another.

Wishful thinking of a Londoner? Maybe, but one can always wish.

– The Londoner

Surviving Cairo

I recently received a message asking about safety in Egypt, how it was settling in as a woman and how I dealt with living in Cairo. The answer requires several blog posts, but I sent the following reply instead. This could be the start of a ‘Surviving Cairo’ series (sounds like it would need its own blog, actually, but let’s scrap that idea for now!).

I understand the concerns of your family regarding Cairo’s safety, as it isn’t in the most stable political position at the moment, and recent happenings are a cause for concern. However, I generally believe Cairo to be safe, and I honestly wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t the case (especially since my employer would have all British nationals evacuated as we were during the revolution!).

Having said that, I have what I believe to be the advantage of being a woman of colour and a wearer of a headscarf, and thus my experiences might be somewhat different from someone who is openly viewed as being foreign. People usually can’t work me out because I dress as a Muslim woman, I’m black (like a Sudanese or even Nubian would be) and thus do not get hassled or bothered… and people make the mistake of speaking Arabic to me as though I would understand! This is all until I open my mouth and English spills forth; I am more of an amalgamation than some can handle, so I stick to the ‘From Nigeria’, response when asked where I’m from – London is not believable!

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